Electronic Design Is Key To Building Cars Of The Future

Written by  Sarang Shelke | 10 March 2017 | Published in March 2017 ( Guest Commentary )

14-15 guestCommentary atrMar17

SARANG SHELKE is Engineering Director, Tensilica IP Group at Cadence

The big buzz in the automotive industry lately is about the autonomous driving vehicle. Automobile manufacturers have already released, or are soon to release, self-driving features that give cars some ability to drive themselves. This means that future cars will be equipped with sensor clusters, more computing power, Car2X communication technology (also known as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication), high-bandwidth Ethernet networks, and more than 15 high-definition (HD) displays.


While an autonomous driving vehicle may seem a distant dream for us in India, automakers are nevertheless competing to bring in advanced features like connectivity, GPS, advanced safety features, in-car entertainment and improved fuel efficiency across all models to attract potential buyers.

According to a report by the India Brand Equity Foundation ( released in November 2016, the Indian auto industry is one of the largest in the world and accounts for 7.1 % of the country's GDP, so innovation is critical for automakers. Automotive electronics is a key element for enabling the autonomous driving market, and providing cost-competitive electronic solutions is an opportunity for Indian automotive companies, when competing at the global level.

According to the Society of Indian Automotive Manufacturers (SIAM), the Indian automotive sector today is a $ 74 bn industry, and by 2026, the industry is expected to achieve a turnover of $ 300 bn — clocking a CAGR of around 15 %. The Indian government recently released the Automotive Mission Plan (AMP) 2016-26 draft to map the aspirations of the auto and the auto component industries. The AMP also promotes India as a preferred global manufacturing destination, whilst introducing intervention and prescription mechanisms aimed at meeting the government's 'Make in India' goals and aspirations.


Automotive electronics is a critical part of a growing industry. Semiconductors are at the heart of all electronics, and automotive electronics is no different. From the system level right down to the chip level, semiconductors drive electronics.

A car is a great example of a system within a system. ABS braking and other safety features, infotainment, transmission, power steering, etc, are so complex that they are considered systems by themselves. Electronic control unit (ECU) is a generic term for any embedded system that controls one or more of the electrical system or sub-systems in a vehicle. Today's automobile might have 70 or more ECUs for various sub-systems. Typically, the biggest embedded system is the engine control unit. Other ECUs are used for transmission, airbags, antilock braking systems, cruise control, electric power steering, audio systems, battery & recharging systems for hybrid/ electric cars, among others.

Some of the sub-systems can function independently, but automotive application communications with other sub-systems is very important. The Controller Area Network (CAN) standard was devised to fill this communication need. CAN is a vehicle bus standard designed to allow microcontrollers and devices to communicate with each other in applications without a host computer. The Local Interconnect Network (LIN) is a serial network protocol used for communication between components in vehicles. LIN was developed because of the need for a less expensive serial network. It's much more expensive to use CAN to connect every component in a car. Currently, the low-cost efficiency of LIN is used in combination with simple sensors to create small networks. Then these sub-systems can be connected by a backbone network (i.e., CAN). Typical sub-systems include sensors, light sensors, light controls, sun roofs, cruise control, wipers, turning lights, etc.

At the system on chip (SoC) level, lack of space, reduction of power and weight (emissions), and cost savings are pushing automotive suppliers to integrate much more functionality on a chip rather than on a printed circuit board (PCB). By leveraging new advanced semiconductor process technologies like 40nm G, 28nm FD-SOI, and 16FFC in combination with dedicated design IP and packaging technology, a new class of automotive SoCs or systems in package (SiPs) will dramatically change the architecture of future high-integration ECUs. These changes will greatly enhance the performance, efficiency, reliability and safety of future vehicles.

IP and protocols are also critical in automotive electronics. Ethernet is emerging as the network of choice for infotainment and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that include cameras, telematics, rear-seat entertainment systems and mobile phones. Standard Ethernet protocols can't assure deterministic and continuous audio/ video content delivery for bandwidth-intensive and latency-sensitive applications without performance hits like buffering, jitter, lags, etc.

Audio-video bridging (AVB) over Ethernet refers to the collection of extensions to the IEEE 802.1 specifications that enable Ethernet networks to stream loss-sensitive audio/ video data that are time synchronised. For example, this specification allows the sound from the rear speakers of your car to be synchronised with the front speakers, thereby ensuring passengers have an enjoyable experience with the vehicle's infotainment system.

Another very important IP required for ADAS is embedded vision processor(s) that are capable of processing real-time image data captured by camera systems. Such embedded vision processors are used for running various features like lane detection, traffic sign recognition and pedestrian detection.

Similar to vision processors, communication processors have also become essential. These are used in short-range RADAR/ LIDAR applications that are targeted for object detection. Car infotainment systems contain various video- and audio-processing IPs to support premium quality requirements.

Having all the IP ISO 26262 Automotive Safety Integrity Level (ASIL)-ready is a primary requirement to ensure that SoCs designed with these IP can pass required safety compliance tests. ASIL is a risk-classification scheme that defines the safety requirements for the functional safety of the vehicle. The Verification IP (VIP) that is used to verify these ADAS and infotainment systems (USB, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LTE radio, etc.) are used by every major vendor that supplies chips to the automotive industry.


Electronic Design Automation (EDA) companies such as Cadence have recognised the exciting opportunity and challenges that this industry presents very early on and have been partnering with the automotive industry to offer a comprehensive portfolio of IP to enable such futuristic cars to be built today. In time, we may even see a driverless car tuned to Indian road conditions.

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